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Pentecost is the day on which Jesus pours out God’s Spirit upon the Apostles and believers gathered in Jerusalem. The Greek word for Pentecost literally means “the fiftieth,” that is, the fiftieth day after the Passover, or, in this case, after Jesus’ death. Since Jesus had appeared to His disciples after His resurrection “during forty days” (Acts 1:3), it has only been about ten days since His ascension (the “not many days from now” of His promise to them in 1:5). Luke relates the event in Acts 2:1–41 by first describing it and those individuals attendant upon it. Then he records Peter’s response to those who mocked the disciples with his quoting the prophecy of Joel. This leads to Peter’s presentation of the gospel, his declaration of Jesus as “both Lord and Christ” (v. 36), and ultimately his offer of that gospel to them. From all these events we can draw significance for today.
The event fulfills the words of Jesus to His disciples “to wait [in Jerusalem] for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses’” (1:4–5, 8). A sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the house, tongues of fire rested upon them, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (2:2–4). “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (initially fulfilling the “all flesh” of 2:17) from all the nations around the Mediterranean Sea who were in Jerusalem for this feast had come together to observe this phenomenon. The text says that they heard the preachers “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (v. 11) — a sound, a sight, the disciples speaking and the audience hearing without interpretation the mighty works of God in each one’s own language. Although similar to what we find in 1 Corinthians 14, it differs in that it displays all the power of the Spirit’s operation not only in the sound and sight but also in their being able to speak languages that others can understand without an interpreter.
As a result, nearly all were amazed, but some were mocking (“they are filled with new wine,” 2:13). Peter stood up in the midst of the Apostles and said that the mockery was not a correct understanding because “this [phenomenon] is what was uttered through the prophet Joel” (2:16). For in that prophecy (Joel 2:17–18, 28–32) it is written, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18). Peter attests through the citing of these words that the speaking of the disciples enabled by the Spirit is the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy. In this case, Joel’s word prophesy is utilized in its broadest sense as this account is referred to the apostolic band “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” by the enabling of the Holy Spirit (v. 11). Later in the New Testament, Joel’s statement (“your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” v. 17) includes those men and women who more literally “prophesy” by speaking what God has given them by His Spirit to say.
Peter ends his echoing of Joel’s prophecy in the middle of Joel 2:28 with the words “and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). He ends the citation with these words because they are the transition point from which he proclaims the message of salvation that is fulfilled in Jesus. He does so by reviewing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and how Jesus’ resurrection fulfills the promises of Psalm 16 (Acts 2:25– 32) as well as how Jesus’ ascension fulfills the promise of Psalm 110 (Acts 2:33–35). This presentation demonstrates that this Jesus is truly “both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). Jesus’ ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the reason Peter can state that this truth should be known “for certain” (v. 36). Notice again verse 33: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Peter tells the people that Jesus, the one whom they crucified, is Lord and Christ. Cut to the heart, they ask him what they should do. Peter says to them: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Peter understands the Pentecost experience to mean that those who repent and believe will receive the forgiveness of their sins as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit. The apostolic band received both, but had to wait for the Spirit until Jesus had ascended. Believers who come to faith after the fullness of the Spirit’s outpouring as Acts records in Pentecost and a few other episodes no longer experience any delay between forgiveness and receiving the Spirit like those who came to faith in that transitional period between the old and new covenants that occurred in the first century. This coupling of the gift of the Holy Spirit (or the baptism of the Holy Spirit) with one’s conversion is stated clearly by Peter here. (Baptism of the Spirit and gift of the Spirit are used interchangeably in Acts 1:5; 2:38; and also within 1:16–17.) Notice how Peter argues with the Jews in Jerusalem over the conversion of Cornelius on the basis of this joining of conversion and the gift of the Holy Spirit: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (11:15–17). And notice how he makes the gift (or baptism) of the Spirit to be the result of believing in Jesus (“the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”) and not upon waiting. So Pentecost is a forerunner of all those times when individuals trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We who live in these times from Pentecost until Christ’s return receive the same gift (or baptism) of the Spirit as the believers did at Pentecost but without the extraordinary gifts that attended it in the apostolic age. We can see how some of the attendant items had already waned between Pentecost and the time of the church in Corinth.
Finally, Peter links together not only the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but he also links the work of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promise of the covenant of grace that was first made with Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 17:7–8; Gal. 3:7–9; 3:13–14). Note well the offer that he makes in Acts 2:39: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Here the offer of the covenant is repeated in the promise as being “for you and for your children,” just as it was for Abraham. And here also the promise is further extended “to those who are far off,” that is, to the believer and his children through whom also the nations of the world will be blessed. The qualification of this promise is seen from the human perspective in the need to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and from the divine perspective in being those “whom the Lord ou
r God calls to himself.” “About three thousand souls” responded to this glorious invitation and “received his word [and] were baptized” and “were added” to the church on that great day when Christ poured out the promised Holy Spirit on His people (Acts 2:41).
That Holy Spirit is still the enabling power for our growth in holiness and the “power” that we need to be Jesus’ witnesses to everyone around us, even “to the end of the earth” (1:8). Every true Christian has “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9). All of us gifted-by-the-Spirit Christians (and there are no Christians who are not) should continually heed the admonition of the Apostle Paul: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).